On styles, expectations and body
Monday, January 4, 2010
Last Saturday, I was doing an in store
sampling of Quady Electra for the San Francisco Wine
Exchange. I have done some in the past for their Milbrandt
Vineyards wines, and will be doing some more in the future.
The most enjoyable thing about doing the samples is the
people that you meet, whether or not they like or purchase
the product. This time I was at the state store located at
32 South Second Street, in the Olde City section of
Philadelphia. And during that time, I got to chat with a
returned Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant (Gunny), and a number
of other characters/people. One was a woman that came in
with two others, and made some assumptions in regards to the
basic tastes of Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
In her explanation(s), one was more full-bodied than the
others, which was incorrect; she also got a number of other
points wrong. And this leads me to this column.
Many people assume certain things about wine,
i.e. having certain expectations of what to get based on
what they are drinking. Things go like:
- red wines are all dry
- white wines are all sweet
- wines from France are the best
- white zinfandel is a grape, and so is red
- Yellowtail is a good
- I've had x type of wine and I
don't like it
- Champagne is all that, or I
don't like champagne, or this champagne is the
Now, unless someone has truly
been exposed to a number of wines over the years, and has
had a number of different versions of the same varietal, be
it from different countries, different appellations,
different producers, and in a number of styles, they really
have no basis to make any pronouncements when it comes to
wine. It's like one of those arguments I used to have, as
well as hear others have, in regards to whom was the better
martial artists/fighters between a number of people,
especially when none of the participants in the conversation
have had ample amounts of experience in fighting arts to
foment an intelligent position.
people with limited exposure to wine make too many
judgements in regards to the varietals and types of wine
that they have experienced; the same can be said to our
biases against people based on race, religion, age, creed
and color. You essentially have adults walking around
spewing the opinions of children in regards to something in
which they don't have a developed and matured outlook.
Now let's get down to some basics.
Just because a wine says that
it is a certain grape, that doesn't mean that it's 100% that
grape; usually a wine claiming to be a certain grape is
anywhere from 75% to 85% that grape and the rest made up of
one or more other grape varietals. Unless it specifically
states the blend, or that the wine is 100% one grape,
remember that it's something else. Also, don't forget that
sometimes there is abject fraud in labeling; Gallo just won
a judgement based on the suppliers of its Red Bicyclette
Pinot Noir, since it found out that some 20 million plus
bottles of it sold was not in fact Pinot Noir.
Blend is also important when you are talking
wines named after appellations in which they were grown.
This would be true for most wines in France and Italy,
whereas an appellation's governing body there mandates what
can be used in wines with the designation as well as
minimums of each grape. However, this is not to say that
every Chianti tastes the same.
Not everyone produces a wine
in the same style, as Chardonnay and Chablis are both made
from the Chardonnay grape, but the styles of wine are
different, yielding two completely different tastes. There
is New World versus Old World styles. There are wine
producing neighbors that use the same varietals, but
different methods of making their wines which can make them
taste miles apart.
Alsace and some New
World Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio wines taste totally
different than Italian style Pinot Grigio, while they are
the same grape. The former are usually full-bodied and
robust in flavors of peach, pear, and/or apricot. The
latter are very clean and devoid of most taste. Try an
Arcane Cellars Pinot Gris (Washington State) as well as a
Fun House Pinot Grigio (Australia) and a Willm Pinot Gris
(Alsace) when you get a chance.
wines are determined by not only the grapes used, but how
the wine was fermented and aged, with such factors as
whether oak was used, the maceration process, and the
fermentation process. It's like how depending upon the part
of the country you're in, there is a different method of
making things such as pizza and barbecue. Well, the same is
true for wine.
upon the style used to make a wine, the result is it's level
of body, which many people rate on a scale of one to five,
with the higher number representing full-bodied. Body is
something that most people don't understand, equating it
with the mouth and feel of a wine, which deals with the
texture and weight of the wine versus the taste. A
light-bodied wine has less character and tends to be on the
drier side, while a full-bodied wine bursts forth with
flavor, and in a traditionally dry wine as most reds are,
comes across with some sweetness in its flavor. The first
Syrah that I had was very full-bodied, but then again, it
was at least sixty dollars a bottle, maybe even eighty
expectations that people have is that the price of the
bottle determines the quality of it. While in many cases
this is true, simply based on the cost of the ingredients
and their quality, you can encounter some phenomenal wines
under twenty dollars a bottle, and most of my favorite
Chardonnays are less than that, with one being six dollars a
bottle (Rayun Chardonnay).
said, sometimes the best thing to do is to actually
participate and learn more versus assuming things based on a
platform of ignorance. Hey, we all have done this at least
once in our lives, and many of us constantly do it,
especially commenting on something that we read or heard
that was reported as news and wasn't the truth anyway.
Oh, and here are my comments to those points
- red wines are all dry –
Technically yes, but a full bodied red will taste very
welcoming to a white wine drinker. And then there are red
grapes like Dornfelder and Saperavi.
- white wines are all sweet – Definitely not
true, as there is Sancerre, Vino Verdejo and a number of
other dry wines, as well as there are styles in which
otherwise very sweet wines become very dry.
- wines from France are the best - Nope
- white zinfandel is a grape, and so is red
zinfandel – There is only Zinfandel, which is a red grape
(the genetic equivalent to Primitivo). White Zinfandel is
made from processing the grape a certain way, which would be
- Yellowtail is a good
wine – oh please
- I've had x type of
wine and I don't like it – then try that type of wine/grape
varietal again by different producers in the same country,
different countries, and at different price points.
- Champagne is all that, or I don't like
champagne, or this champagne is the bomb – Champagne is just
sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France using a
method second fermentation in the bottle; it is no more
special than another wine, it's just all in the marketing of
it (as most things French are all about the marketing).
Additionally, you have to try different dosages (sugar
levels) of Champagne to see which style you like as well as
different grape combination. Also, you might not be
drinking Champagne, but some other sparkling wine.